Charles H. Smith
July 3, 1863
When the Civil War began, Charles Henry Smith was a teacher and law student in Eastport. He would not remain there, however.
The Hollis native, now in his early 30s, volunteered in 1861 to serve in the Army. He had a horse and could ride, and he was soon in command of the 1st Maine Cavalry, leading men from Aroostook, Cumberland, Penobscot, Franklin, Kennebec, Somerset, and York counties.
It was a regiment that would distinguish itself throughout the war, and Smith would eventually rise to the ranks of Colonel, brevet Major General and brevet Brigadier General. He would also be recognized for his bravery in battle with the awarding of the Medal of Honor.
In the most pivotal of the 63 battles in which Smith fought, however, he and the 1st Maine were almost an afterthought.
On July 2, 1863, after a lengthy march, they arrived at the far right flank of the Army of the Potomac. They camped along a section of the Low Dutch Road, about three miles from the center of the Gettysburg battlefield. Everyone was well aware of the events of the first two days, and speculation was rampant about what might happen next.
By mid-day on July 3, several of the Union cavalry regiments were about to mount up and ride west, when they became aware of a cloud of dust rolling their way. Generating the dust was the Confederate cavalry of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, who were intent on moving behind Union lines and joining in the attack of Cemetery Ridge being formed by General George Pickett. Pickett's infantry was marching up the front of the hill, Stuart was supposed to come to the ridge from behind.
Determined to block Stuart, the Union cavalry, a force almost equal to the 3,500 Confederate horse soldiers, attacked. Units from Pennsylvania and Michigan led the way, with Brigadier Gen. George Armstrong Custer rallying the Michiganders with the shout of "Come on, you Wolverines."
Smith and the 1st Maine were held in reserve for the first half hour of the battle, then sent forward to blunt the Confederate advance.
J.E.B. Stuart's gambit failed. Pickett's charge never received the help it needed, and the battle of Gettysburg ended that night.
The 1st Maine Cavalry continued to serve with distinction to the end of the war.
Smith was admitted to the Maine bar in 1864. He was mustered out of the Civil War in 1865, elected to the Maine State Senate in 1866, and appointed Colonel of the 3rd U.S. Infantry in 1866. He remained in the Army until 1891, and died in 1902. He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.